For measuring and marking

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Words and photo: Neil Erasmus

Most furniture designer makers are suckers for tools, devices and machinery – sometimes even for quaint or exotic fare that we seldom need or use. The range of things I need to make the furniture I offer my clientele is broad, however three tools that I regard as ‘must haves’ and that together cost under $100 are my 2mm clutch pencil, a dedicated Swiss-made Geddes sharpener, and a JIS 150mm steel rule with stop. My Caran d’Ache pencil, designed in 1929, bears the name of its inventor.

Accuracy is a universal requirement in a fine furniture practice, and this trio gives me all I need to transfer a number in my head directly onto wood in the form of a fine point, or a small line – with an accuracy I’m guessing to be 0.2mm.

Caran d’Ache Fixpencil

Two millimetre clutch pencils are readily available at art suppliers and stationers in a variety of brand names, and are mostly supplied with built-in sharpeners that barely perform. Caran d’Ache pencils come in a range of colours and carry 130 x 2mm leads that are available in the normal range of graphite grades. As with most clutch pencils, the lead is advanced or retracted by pressing down on the end. Without the pencil holder, the lead on its own is also handy in cramped spaces for transferring dovetail pins to their corresponding tails.

Geddes Sharpener

As we all know, accuracy is directly related to how sharp the lead is. Sharp pencil leads blunt quickly and need to be quickly and efficiently maintained. The iconic Geddes sharpener is one of those simple but brilliant designs and consists of only four parts. At the heart of the device is an abrasive conical ring around which the extended pencil lead travels. Sharpening with it is as simple as extending the pencil lead about 10mm from the tip of the pencil and sliding it into the hole in the ball on top of the device, then rotating it two or three times to get a needle-sharp point. The lead grindings are contained within the sharpener and emptied out by simply unscrewing the base. No other sharpener comes close in terms of efficiency.

JIS Steel Rule and Stop

With a brain filled with numbers and a sharp pencil in hand all that’s now needed is a measure. The excellent range of JIS stainless steel rules form the backbone of my measure and mark system, none more so than the smallest 150mm rule which sits alongside my pencil in my apron chest pocket.

A small adjustable stop converts it into a handy mini combination square that gives it a myriad of uses. What sets these rules apart is that both edges are finely but clearly marked in whole millimetres rather than one edge in half-millimetres, which no one on the dark side of sixty can make out. In addition, every 50mm calibration is marked in a bold red number in accumulated centimetres – a very handy quick reference. Another nice feature is that these rules have a clever little kink in the end to lift the tool to help pick it up – so thoughtful in an essential tool.

Neil Erasmus is a furniture designer/maker in Perth, WA and also teaches woodwork. See
Caran d’Ache pencils and Geddes sharpener from
JIS rules from

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